Berlin hopes the so-called “National Platform for Electric Mobility” will give the country's all-important car industry a technological edge over foreign competitors in order to secure some 750,000 jobs.
“We intend to make the auto sector fit for the future,” Merkel said after hosting 400 representatives from the car industry, science community and policymakers.
Led by Henning Kagermann, the former head of software firm SAP, the initiative will co-ordinate the efforts of seven working groups focused on areas such as electric motors, batteries and the infrastructure required for e-cars.
The German government has said it hopes to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. The forum will report back to Merkel this autumn and in Spring 2011 on its progress. But Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer rejected calls by the auto industry for a government subsidy for purchases of e-cars.
“I'm counting on the attractiveness of the products,” Ramsauer said.
Instead, the government is looking into supporting research and development, offering free urban parking for electric car and other incentives.
Before the meeting in Berlin on Monday, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche dismissed criticism that German carmakers had been slow to develop electric vehicles.
“This ‘sleepiness' is a myth,” he told public broadcaster ZDF. But he acknowledged the shift away from combustion engines to cleaner electric cars wouldn't happen overnight. “It will be a long road,” he said.